Mature oak tree in York lit up by 1km of lights at Christmas could be cut down under plans to revamp the area

The oak tree at the Eye of York, which was lit up as a new interactive visitor attraction at Christmas, could be cut down under council plans to revamp the area.

City of York Council is considering four different designs for the redevelopment of the Eye of York, the area surrounded by York Crown Court, the Castle Museum and Clifford’s Tower, as part of its Castle Gateway scheme.

But the council’s preferred choice would see the tree removed, the area landscaped with shrubs, grass, seating and a concrete areas for events.

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They say the tree blots key views, particularly between the court and the former prison steps opposite. They say it also prevents people sitting on the grass because it is not an attractive area and the tree causes too much shade.

The oak tree at the Eye of York

The oak tree was planted in 1981 and according to the project team, it was unpopular at first because it was a rather small sapling.

But during the past 40 years it has grown to become a mature oak tree and at Christmas it became a visitor attraction when York BID wrapped 1km of interactive festive lights around it – making it the first installation of its kind in the UK.

The lights could be controlled through visitors’ smartphones and the colour or effect could be changed. The attraction was dubbed ‘The Magical Tree of Light’.

A blog post by the My Castle Gateway team says the tree was first planted to mark the 15 year anniversary of former York MP Alex Lyon, who was first elected in 1966 and represented the city in Parliament until 1983.

The council’s Castle Gateway redevelopment plans include proposals to close Castle Car Park and revamp the entire area around the Eye of York and Clifford’s Tower.

It is considering four designs for the area, two of which would see the tree removed and two which mean the tree could be kept. The council prefers an option that would see the tree cut down and other trees planted.

Andy Kerr, head of regeneration at the council, discussed the designs at a public meeting, saying: “Obviously this design doesn’t leave the tree in place that sits there at the moment but that really allows you to look across to the two buildings which were very much designed to face each other into this space.

“Those views in and out of the area are really opened up by the tree not being there.

“We are very conscious as well that there are people questioning whether the tree could be retained in that area and it’s something that we’re very conscious of.

“We’ve looked at it, I think we’ve explained the reason why we’ve tried to look at it without the tree because the tree is so dominant to that space and has been such a new addition, 1981 that tree was planted.”

The designers said if the tree is kept, the plans will need to be designed around it and the central area at the Eye of York could not be concreted or paved as an area of soft landscaping would need to be kept at the base of the tree.

But the plans have been criticised by several residents, with one commenting on the blog post to ask the council if it is appropriate for the area outside the crown court to be used for activities “where some dignity and quietness is important to the proper discharge of justice”.

To have your say on the plans and view the designs visit mycastlegateway.org